Court: Cobb lesbian murder conviction stands

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imageThe Georgia Supreme Court rejected the arguments of a Cobb County lesbian convicted of murdering her partner on Monday, unanimously upholding her conviction and life prison sentence.

The ruling was swift. Attorneys for Natasha W. Demery went before the court July 6 to argue that the justices should reverse her conviction and sentence of life plus five years since prosecutors failed to prove her guilt. Demery’s attorneys also argued that the state didn’t disprove the defense theory that she killed her partner after suffering from battered person syndrome.

But the court rejected that in a ruling issued Monday morning.

In today’s opinion, written by Justice Robert Benham, the high court finds that “the evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty of felony murder beyond a reasonable doubt.” The evidence showed that Demery shot Lea with a .380-caliber pistol “when it was in contact with the victim’s head.” A detective testified that Demery told him she had pointed the gun at Lea, warning, “the next time you put your hands on me, I’m going to drop you where you stand.” She later told police she did not intend to shoot Lea. The State also presented evidence that conflicted with Demery’s portrayal of herself as the victim. Three witnesses for the prosecution testified that Demery was the possessive, jealous one, and that she had attacked Lea more than once. But the credibility of witnesses is “a matter for the jury,” the opinion says, and the jury “was not required to believe the testimony of the witnesses supportive of appellant’s justification defense.” The Court also rejects Demery’s challenge that the State racially discriminated against African Americans during jury selection. “The State’s explanation for the exercise of its peremptory challenge was ‘race-neutral, case-related, clear and reasonably specific,’” the opinion says. Finally the court also did not err by refusing to instruct jurors they could consider Demery guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a less serious charge than murder. If someone kills another in self-defense, as Demery argued she did, that person “is guilty of no crime at all.”

Demery, a former stripper, was convicted of murdering Alisha Lea in December 2006, some eight months after the two women began sharing a Cobb County home. In March 2009, a jury convicted Demery on charges of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. She was sentenced to life plus five years and will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

Prosecutors say Lea picked up Demery after her shift at a Decatur strip club on Dec. 7. They argued as they drove to Marietta and Lea left Demery at a Waffle House in Cobb County. When Demery arrived, she went into a spare bedroom and locked the door. Lea confronted her and, according to Demery, berated her and ordered her to leave.

Demery testified that Lea pushed her into a wall and punched her in the face. Demery ran into the master bedroom, retrieved a handgun, loaded it and pointed it at Lea.

“The next time you put your hands on me, I’m going to drop you where you stand,” Demerey warned. When Lea turned away, Demery poked her in the head with the gun and pulled the trigger. She told police that she didn’t intend to shoot Lea.

During the trial, an expert forensic psychologist testified that Demery suffered from battered person syndrome. Demery testified that Lea attacked her several times, though prosecution witnesses said Demery assaulted Lea.

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